AP WAS THERE: 1948 London Olympics

EDITORS — With the Tokyo Olympics postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Associated Press is looking back at the history of Summer Games. This story was published in the Tulare Advance-Register (Calif.) on Aug. 7, 1948. The story, from the day Bob Mathias won the decathlon at the London Games, is reprinted here as it ran using the contemporary style, terminology and including any published errors. The women’s 200 winner was Fanny Blankers-Koen, not Fannie Blanker-Koen.


By Ted Smits

OLYMPIC STADIUM, WEMBLEY, England, Aug. 7 — Two completely unorthodox athletes stand out today as the track stars of the 1948 Olympic games.

One is Bob Mathias, the American high school boy who won the decathlon. At 17 years of age he beat the world’s toughest all around competitors.

The other is Holland’s Fannie Blanker-Koen, who is the first woman ever to win three Olympic championships. And she did it although she is 30 years old and the mother of two children. Her third gold medal came in the 200 meter dash, which she won yesterday, just as everyone knew she would.

Mathias had to plod through rain and darkness from 10:30 a.m. until 11:15 p.m. to snatch the decathlon title away from a mighty field of 37 that finally dwindled down to 28.

“I don’t ever want him to do it again,” said his proud mother, Mrs. Lillian Mathias of Tulare, Calif., “it’s too hard.”

Never has a decathlon finished more dramatically than this one.

Big steady Ignace Heinrich of France stuck to second place all along. Because of a lucky pole vault draw he was able to finish his ordeal around 7:00 p.m., with an imposing total of 6,974 points.

Mathias was still pole vaulting and had the javelin and 1,500 meter run still ahead.

The young Californian, who stand six feet 1 1/2 inches, and who weighs 193 pounds, is no distance runner. He knew if he were to win he must pile up enough points in the pole vault and javelin to compensate for a slow 1,500 meters.

So with iron nerves — friends say he never has the jitters — he kept on vaulting despite the rain and darkness. He finally soared over at 11 feet 5 3/4 inches for 692 points. By then he had 6,192 points, 165 ahead of what Heinrich had when finished the pole vault.

But night was wearing on.

“I’m so tired,” Bob groaned. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to run the 1,500 meters in six minutes.”

In the decathlon a man is graded on the basis of 1,000 for a perfect performance, and a six minute 1,500 would have been fatal.

So Bob gritted his teeth and threw the javelin a mighty 165 feet 1 inch for 593 points.

Now things looked safe.

The runners took their positions on the far side of the track, scarcely visible in the gloom. The gun sounded and they were off.

It was apparent that young Mathias was a tired, worn boy. A Swede spurted far in front, but with slow, painful motions like someone running in a dream, Bob kept on around the track.

When he came to the final stretch he managed a sprint. He finished in the pitifully slow time of 5:11 for only 354 points. But it was enough for victory.


Source: Tulare Advance-Register. Retrieved by AP researcher Francesca Pitaro.

Copyright © 2021 . All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.


Sign up for breaking news alerts